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Women's World Cup: Bay Area's Tierna Davidson shines for USWNT vs. Chile

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AP

Women's World Cup: Bay Area's Tierna Davidson shines for USWNT vs. Chile

The United States Women's National Team's youngest player might have been its best Sunday. 

20-year-old Tierna Davidson made her first Women's World Cup start, and assisted twice in the United States' 3-0 win over Chile in Paris. Davidson was one of seven changes to the starting lineup that head coach Jill Ellis made after Tuesday's 13-0 thrashing of Thailand, and the victory clinched the Americans' spot in the Round of 16. 

Davidson, a Menlo Park native who attended Sacred Heart Preparatory (Atherton) and Stanford, started at left back in the Group F clash. Normally a central defender, Davidson was on corner-kick duty Sunday as a fullback. She delivered two pinpoint, left-footed crosses 10 minutes apart in the first half, setting up Julie Ertz and Carli Lloyd's headers.

Davidson, who left Stanford with a year of eligibility to become the No. 1 pick (Chicago Red Stars) in January's NWSL draft, said after the game that taking corners didn't necessarily come naturally. 

“I was a little bit unsure exactly because I hadn’t taken a corner kick since September, so I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll just put it up there for Carli and she will get her head on there, put it in there for [Ertz] and she’ll get her head on it,’” Davidson told Pro Soccer USA's Ashley Scoby. “Big credit to them, because we have such fantastic aerial presence and they really commit to what they do. So me putting it just outside the goalkeeper’s range was all I really had to do for them to score.”

Although she is the USWNT's youngest player, Davidson has been a fixture in Ellis' side when healthy. Davidson missed World Cup qualifying with a left ankle injury, but started 12 games in 2018. She played all 90 minutes in each of her first five caps, becoming the first to do so since Julie Foudy in 1994. 

On Sunday, Davidson became the youngest player to start for the USWNT at a World Cup since 1995, as well as the youngest defender ever, according to TruMedia Networks' Paul Carr. Central defender Becky Sauerbrunn, who has over 100 more caps than Davidson, told reporters in Paris that Davidson's potential is nearly limitless. 

Sauerbrunn and Abby Dahlkemper -- another Sacred Heart alum -- likely remain locks for Ellis in central defense, but Davidson's performance might have given Ellis something to ponder with regards to her back line. Crystal Dunn, who plays forward for the NWSL's North Carolina Courage, started at left back against Thailand. Dunn offers more in attack than Davidson, but the 20-year-old's defensive instincts might be needed as the Americans face stiffer competition deeper in the tournament.

Ellis, for her part, was impressed by Davidson's performance in the attacking third. 

“I mean, those balls she played in – she’s got one of the sweetest left foots I’ve ever seen,” Ellis told Scoby. “I think her distribution on the ball – she can open up a game with the left foot and obviously her set pieces.”

[RELATED: Watch Lloyd, USWNT troll celebration critics]

Thursday's Group F finale against Sweden will be the USWNT's first real test of the tournament. Winning Group F would likely eventually set up a quarterfinals matchup with host France, but playing Canada -- second place in Group E faces second place in Group F -- in the Round of 16 still sets up a difficult path through the knockout stages. 

Ellis' Thursday lineup and eventual substitutions, then, should provide some insight into her thinking ahead of the knockout stages. With Sunday's two-assist performance, Davidson certainly made a strong case for herself.

Why Brandi Chastain thinks Kate Markgraf was right choice for USWNT GM

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USATSI

Why Brandi Chastain thinks Kate Markgraf was right choice for USWNT GM

Brandi Chastain and Kate Markgraf know each other well.

That’s to be expected of two of the most-capped players in United States Women’s National Team history, and of two women who played alongside one another in one of the most memorable games in American soccer history. Chastain and Markgraf played every minute of the 1999 World Cup Final at the Rose Bowl, and Chastain’s goal in the penalty shootout clinched the USWNT’s second World Cup win.

Twenty years later, Markgraf is leading the USWNT into its future. U.S. Soccer hired her as the team’s general manager last week, and Chastain thinks her former teammate is the right woman for the job.

“I'm very optimistic about her position and the changes and the influences that she'll have,” Chastain told NBC Sports Bay Area last week on behalf of Clover Sonoma’s “Strong Inside” campaign.

Markgraf, 42, will be tasked with leading the search for and hiring the next USWNT manager after Jill Ellis announced last month she would step down from the position. Ellis faced criticism for her tactical decisions, but became just the second coach to win consecutive World Cups when the USWNT lifted the trophy a month ago in France.

Chastain said that the talent pool has never been deeper, and pointed to breakout USWNT star Rose Lavelle as “a player that we can build a team around.” But what kind of team Lavelle leads is anyone’s guess, as many aspects of the next Olympic and World Cup cycle are true unknowns until a new manager is in place.

“[It’s] a big question with a lot of variables and without having leadership there, it will be hard to say what the next young players are because we don't know what style we're playing,” Chastain said. “We don't know what our philosophy is going to be. We don't know what our focus will be.”

The USWNT will in due time, but it was clear that Chastain and Markgraf were on the same page about some of U.S. Soccer’s broader goals. Although she had not yet spoken to her former teammate at the time of our interview, Chastain echoed Markgraf in identifying U.S. Soccer’s need to prioritize and streamline development.

Last week, Markgraf told reporters it would be her “whole focus” to do so. That covers a range of initiatives, including continuing to support NWSL -- which is managed by U.S. Soccer -- and also overseeing the youth national team setup.

Along those lines, Chastain thinks Markgraf is well-equipped to improve the sport’s accessibility in underserved and underprivileged communities. Five of the 23 USWNT players to make the trip to France were women of color, and the costs of entering soccer’s pipeline to colleges -- and, eventually, the pro ranks -- often are prohibitive for families outside of wealthy suburbs.

“I think she's been watching other countries around the world and their coming-of-age in women's soccer, and how much they have been influenced by opportunity,” Chastain said. “... I feel that she's seen the growth of women's soccer on a global scale that could potentially influence how we look for players here in this country, and who do we value and how do we value [them].”

[RELATED: How Chastain still inspires 20 years after iconic goal]

Markgraf, who has not served as a general manager before, will have to make these decisions in the shadow of the USWNT’s gender discrimination lawsuit. Mediation between the players and U.S. Soccer broke down late last week, just days after Markgraf’s hiring. The legal fight might not affect on-field performance -- the USWNT won the World Cup four months after suing U.S. Soccer, after all -- but the two sides appear headed to federal court.

Two decades ago, Markgraf’s relative inexperience didn’t show en route to a World Cup crown. And if you ask Chastain, her former teammate won’t show any in her new position, either.

How Brandi Chastain still inspires 20 years after famed World Cup goal

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USATSI

How Brandi Chastain still inspires 20 years after famed World Cup goal

Brandi Chastain’s legacy is set in bronze. Well, at least part of it is.

The two-time world champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist scored the most famous goal in American soccer history 20 years ago last month at the Rose Bowl, drilling a left-footed penalty kick into the top corner to clinch the United States Women’s National Team’s second World Cup title. The Rose Bowl unveiled a statue of Chastain’s iconic celebration last month, and the Bay Area native says she’s “grateful” for the honor.

But the gold, silver and bronze that came in Chastain’s decorated career aren’t what she’ll remember most. 

“[It] wasn't the reason to get started,” Chastain, 51, told NBC Sports Bay Area this week, speaking on behalf of Clover Sonoma’s “Strong Inside” campaign. “It wasn't the reason to stay in it, and it won't be the reason to continue. 

“But the reasons are about the people, and how you get to influence young people's way of not just playing the game, but how they see themselves in society and how they can organize themselves in teams, and how they can become leaders and possibly make positive change.”

Chastain retired from the sport in 2010, and that mindset has guided her post-playing career. She is the executive director of California Thorns FC, a U.S. Soccer development academy program associated with NWSL’s Portland Thorns. She coaches the under-14 team, and the boys varsity soccer team at Bellarmine College Preparatory.

Chastain, along with World Cup-winning teammate Julie Foudy, co-founded the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative in 2005. According to Chastain, BAWSI has provided a free after-school exercise program for nearly 20,000 elementary-school girls in underserved communities since its inception. 

Along with the rest of the World Cup-winning “99ers,” Chastain was cited as an inspiration to many on the 2019 team. By sealing the United States’ first back-to-back titles with this summer’s run in France, the 2019 iteration joined their predecessors in American soccer lore. 

Chastain said she was happy to be someone young women looked up to, since she didn’t have examples of women playing professional sports when she was a young, aspiring athlete. 

“Now that I see these young players that I coach,” Chastain said, “that they are looking to the [USWNT] and they are looking at other national teams, and they have those resources. They have those mentors. … It makes you feel good that these national team players are saying that we’ve had good representation before we came here, and we hope to follow in their footsteps.”

Chastain recently partnered with Petaluma-based dairy Clover Sonoma for its “Strong Inside” promotion that highlighted her, NBC Sports Bay Area Giants reporter Amy Gutierrez, former Stanford basketball star Jennifer Azzi and American middle-distance runner Alysia Montaño as women who are inspiring future generations to find their inner strength.

“It's just a testament to how long she has stayed in the spotlight,” Kristel Corson, Clover Sonoma’s vice president of sales and marketing, said of Chastain. “And that people are still recognizing what she did [20 years ago] as something that's still so important, even in today's world as women athletes are fighting for equal pay and sort of equal rights across the board, she has continued to be in that spotlight and stand up for women and stand up for young girls, helping them achieve what they need.”

Amid recent organizational changes within U.S. Soccer, Chastain sees an opportunity to continue to pay it forward. 

U.S. Soccer officially hired Kate Markgraf, Chastain’s former teammate, as the USWNT’s general manager earlier this week. Markgraf will be tasked with hiring the team’s next leader after Jill Ellis, who is only the second coach to win back-to-back World Cups, announced last month that she would step down.

Chastain said she wants to “become a part of coaching” the youth national team set-up, with an eye on “hopefully one day working with the national team.” Even with all she has accomplished in soccer, she has plenty of passion for the sport.

“I still love soccer as much as I ever have -- maybe even more,” Chastain said. “I'm hoping that, with my age, that will be an asset in terms of my experience and the fact that I've been in this game for over 43 years, and I want to continue to give back.”